Environmental services provide mankind with economic, financial, ecological and cultural benefits, which more often than not are taken for granted. The hydrological services provided by forests, such as clean and regulated water flow, and reduced sedimentation, for example, are typically only noted when natural disasters, flooding, siltation of reservoirs and scarcity of water occur as a result of the removal of forest cover. That such services should be lost despite their value is easy to understand. Therefore, this is stated by Petty 1899, that ‘Labor is the father and nature is the mother of the wealth’. The solution to rapid and continued environmental degradation requires not only an economic and ecological understanding of the problem under consideration, but also of the social, cultural and political circumstances of the relevant stakeholders – the people from the local communities.
The Mewar region of Rajasthan is home to a rich legacy of traditional water harvesting systems. Systems were in place to share the water available and cultivate accordingly. But with time due to negligence of these practices this place is now suffering the acute water scarcity. We would have not understood the importance of environmental services provided by these water harvesting systems. Our practices of conservation of biodiversity through land and water management have taught us that the scope for restoring nature is immense. This work is labor intensive but compatible with our cultural ethos and, if properly handled, can generate employment. It will help rejuvenate natural resources, improve water quality, revive underground sources of water, supply basic necessities of life, and enhance biodiversity qualitatively, and quantitatively.
Pad Yatra and puppet show organised
A Pad Yatra, and a puppet show was organised during contemplation campaign. Pad Yatra was organised between Pemadia Khera and Kalika Mata fort temple, Chittorgarh. The objective of the Pad Yatra was to disseminate the message of water and biodiversity conservation to the surrounding villages of the Pemadia Khera and to aware them about ongoing works being implemented by people’s participation under the project. They were disseminated the message in the seven villages from personal meetings, banners and hard boards with slogans. To see the enthusiasm of the villagers people from other villages got an insight to do the same practices of land and water management as well as biodiversity conservation.
A puppet show was also organised for enhancing the general comprehension about environment and social awareness and peoples participation. People entertained as well as increased their understanding about the intricate relationship between natural resources and livelihood to the surrounding population.
Celebration of World forest day
Villagers celebrated the world forest day on 30th March 2004. They expressed their thoughts on this occasion as “Participation of local community for appropriate conservation and management of the forest is the need of the hour because they are the only people affected adversely from degradation of the forest/natural resources”. People expressed and shared views for protection of the forest from their experiences and traditional knowledge being practiced by several generations. EAC members, Bal Panchayat members, Self Help Group (SHG) members and other villagers took part in the celebration. Villagers taken oath for protection and judicious use of the forest and signed a sankalp patra (commitment letter). Villagers recognised that this type of activities increases their understanding and commitment towards natural resources management.
Awareness drive preceding gram sabha
It has been widely marked in the Rajasthan State that people’s participation in the gram sabhas has been continuously declining. This is primarily because of either or both of the reasons, viz., people’s needs/demands are not prioritised/looked into and lackadaisical attitude of the people’s representatives/PRI functionaries. With this as a background, awareness drive was organised in the village. It was preceded by several informal meetings held in that week. During this event, pamphlets and Gram Gadar, wall news paper of the centre, containing information on panchayati raj, involvement of women as well as weaker section of the society, linking ward sabha with gram sabha, and convergence of efforts with wider community participation as well as proactive role, were circulated among project population. They were also given information about functions of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) and hierarchy, its importance in providing autonomy to the villages, decentralisation and role in the development work. Now people are recognised the importance of the gram sabha and participating voluntarily.
Training program for villagers
The second phase of the training programmes was organised. Mr. Sher Singh Vora, participated in the training programmes as resource person. He has given training on appropriate land management techniques as making V-ditch, Continuous Contour Trench (CCT) etc. He also informed about the suitable plant species for plantation purposes in specific to the village. The project staff conducted the training programme on ‘social mobilisation, community participation and stakeholder ownership’ which involved: significance of local organisations formed in the village (e.g. EAC, SHG); control and enforcement mechanisms of such groups; gender and empowerment issues, specific to poor and disadvantaged communities; legality of ownership and administration; leadership development etc. One flipchart on ‘rainwater harvesting’ were utilised to highlight social change processes. The project staff in association with the EAC members endeavoured to assimilate ‘indigenous technical knowledge systems, local traditional practices, community perceptions and preferences regarding management arrangements’. The findings included consensus on Gram Vikas Kosh (village development fund), construction of gully plugs to slowing down the vigorous flow of water in the chhoti nadi, starting discussion on future work plan etc. These were widely discussed among project population, particularly the younger generation, to motivate them in reviving such traditions.
Seminar on sustainable development
Project staff has attended a national seminar on ‘sustainable development: opportunities and challenges (Sangosthi)’ which was organised by Indian Institute of Rural Management (IIRM), Jaipur. There was various sessions organised on Natural Resource Management (NRM), sustainable agriculture, micro finance and sustainable development and on sustainable technology. Project staff had learned the importance of incorporation of the indigenous knowledge with desired intervention while designing and implementing the NRM practices. Project staff also participated in a workshop on Joint Forest Management (JFM) organised Forest department at Kota. He has given a presentation on ‘participation of women in the JFM program’. A workshop was organised by Centre for Environment Education (CEE), Ahmedabad for networking NGOs implementing the Small Grant Program (SGP) of Global Environment Facility (GEF). Project staff has given a brief information about project progress by flow charts designed by photographs and press releases. He shared the project outcome with other participants.
Traditional Practices and Indigenous Knowledge
Deepening and widening of deteriorated traditional ponds
Construction of new ponds and restoration of old degraded ponds was always considered as a sacred and community work, though this practice has forgotten by villagers, now. Therefore revival of such traditional practices and indigenous knowledge is one of the main objective of this biodiversity conservation project. Earthwork, to increase water-holding capacity of the traditional smaller pond (chhoti nadi), has been initiated under the project. The villagers have de-silt and deepen the pond, besides the preliminary and other accompanying works such as clearance of bushes, picking of surface, dressing etc. Embankment of the pond has also been strengthened. Villagers took measurement of the chaukadi’s by themselves in presence of project consultant. Gully plugs have constructed by villagers themselves for slowing down the vigorous flow of water towards the chhoti nadi as an outcome of the exposure visit made in the previous quarter. Among six gully plugs, one was constructed without payment and regarded as community contribution.
Empowered villagers decided to restore old degraded wells under Government scheme
A representation has given to the Zilla Pramukh (head of the first tier of PRI) for restoration of the old degraded wells of the village under Rajiv Gandhi Pey Jal Mission and construction of the CCI road. Ward member of the village with project staff met Zilla Pramukh and given the representation of the same forwarded by Sarpanch of the Tai Gram Panchayat. The project village comes under this Gram Panchayat. Zilla Pramukh has assured for the restoration of the one old well under Rajiv Gandhi Peyjal Mission this time. However, villagers decided to follow up the demand as long as it is not fulfilled.
Preparation of biodiversity register
Preparation of biodiversity register is in progress. Villagers listed various tree species, having medicinal values and significance on their livelihoods. The list also comprised of plant and animal species present, extinct and endangered in the village. This is alarming fact that the loss of biodiversity was exceeded mostly on last twenty years. Few species of animals like eagle and crow are almost extinct and mango tree are endangered from the village.
Role of Environment Action Committee (EAC) to streamline the project activities
EAC members played an important role to solve the conflicts, which had the potential to discontinue the ongoing physical works. They ensured that the adjoining house of the Bapu Nayak with earthen embankment would remain safe after restoration of the chhoti nadi. Bapu Nayak requested to the EAC members that increase the length of earthen embankment so that his house will not be affected adversely. Expansion of chhoti nadi falls under private barren land of Gori Nayak, therefore, EAC members urged to him to provide the same for the sake of development of village. Gori Nayak agreed for giving the land for expansion of nadi, as he recognised the importance of restoring the nadi would make their remaining land fertile.
Publication of a manual on grassroots advocacy
A manual namely ‘Alakh jaga hai gaon-gaon mein’ about CUTS initiatives and efforts on water conservation and management has published and disseminated to the large community of like minded organisations and individuals. The manual mainly focuses the successful case studies of solving the acute water problems of the villages by members of Women Self-Help Groups (SHGs) and women networkers of the CUTS Centre for Human Development. This manual is a beautiful example of the grassroots advocacy by village women who are also the lowest niche of the society.
Environment ministry begins preparing environment policy
National Environment policy (NEP) would be framed and presented to the Union cabinet by May. The mandate for the policy came from the cabinet committee on economic affairs. According to Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF), two key decisions were taken. Firstly, it was felt that the language in these chapters needed to be simplified. Secondly, it was resolved that the group would meet regularly to discuss each new chapter and to review the changes in earlier sections with the aim of preparing a first draft. Once completed, the draft would be circulated amongst various ministries and key stakeholders. (DTE, 2004.04.15)
A good example of access benefit sharing is in peril
India’s wonder drug Jeevani – developed by the Thiruvananthapuram based Tropical Botanical Garden Research Institute (TBGRI) using the traditional knowledge of Kerala’s Kani tribe. It was heralded as the world’s first product that perfectly exemplified the access and benefit sharing system involving indigenous people. It is known to enhance immunity levels, and has anti fatigue as well as anti stress properties. Media articles suggest that a US company has surreptitiously patented the product and is doing brisk business on line. At the same time, Jeevani’s original licensee claims that there are no takers for the medicine. Yet it continues to manufacture the drug. Amid the tangled web, the Kani tribals, who provided valuable inputs for the medicine’s formulation in the first palce, have been sidelined. (DTE, 2004.03.31)
COP-7 to the Convention on Biological Diversity took place
The seventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP-7) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which took place from February 9-20, set the ball rolling. Representatives of more than 160 countries converged on Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia over three weeks to discuss a host of important matters dealing with the subject. The activity culminated with the first Meeting of Parties (MOP-1) to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety from February 23-27.
At COP-7, the possibility of developing an international regime on access and benefit sharing (ABS) of genetic resources was evaluated. Negotiations were also conducted on a comprehensive programme to protect biodiversity hotspots. MOP-1 involved discussions o setting up mechanisms to ensure compliance with biosafety provisions and on documents that would accompany shipments of living modified organisms. (DTE, 2004.03.31)
Groundwater mismanagement to hit grain harvest
Close to 25 percent of the country’s grin harvest could well be under threat due to over exploitation of groundwater resources over the next two decades. Economic growth research researchers from IWMI-Tata Water Policy Program have warned that the mismanagement of vital natural resources such as groundwater could “seriously hinder” the country’s pace of development. Groundwater currently irrigates a total area of well over 35 million hectares, sustaining 60 percent of the country’s irrigated land.
But excessive extraction of groundwater and declining water tables are also causing an alarming level of fluoride build up in water sources, posing serious health threat to vulnerable populations, according to the researchers. Research shows that while more affluent farmers have prospered by drawing down groundwater tables, the health costs from rising levels of flourosis have been disproportionately borne by the rural poor.
Centre takes over CAMPA
Supreme Court has notified a new body which will directly monitor afforestation work across the country as compensation for choked forests – and seize control of the funds which come in for this. Going by the long-winded name of Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA), will function through a 21-member governing body chaired by the Union environment minister and a seven member executive body headed by the Centre’s director-general (forests).
Cutting through state red tape and diversion of money by cash-strapped administrations, this “autonomous kind of body safe from state government pinpricks” will see money go directly to field officials who will then be accountable to the central government. “Hundred percent monitoring” will be done through a process, which will involve NGOs. (TOI 28.04.2004)